If we knew the predetermined characteristics of a good con artist, the magic of the coup would be broken. But it’s easy to establish areas worth urgently avoiding, to set a successful caper on the right track: misogyny, misandry, childishness, tokenism, dead humour and offensive nonsense. The Hustle, and we don’t mean this kindly, has it all.
While the bare bones of this story had enough to hoodwink audiences in 1964 with Bedtime Story and in 1988 with the subsequent remake Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, whichever tricks comedian-turned-director Chris Addison (The Thick Of It, Veep) was hoping to pull off with the third remake, for his feature film debut, have all failed.
Penny (Wilson) and Josephine (Hathaway) meet on a train to the French Riviera, become friends, work together, and, for reasons never explained, they go against each other. The cookie-cutter comedy then turns sour. Their broken feminism – which only advocates for punishment against repulsively distorted men, rather than understanding the notion of base-level equality – is further disqualified, as greediness begets spite, and egotism gets ugly. Puerile, derogatory quips hide no credible self-awareness, and neither woman is given the respect to grow beyond her accents or outfits. Jokes aren’t funny, villains aren’t vicious, lies aren’t believable and love is just fake.
The performative promises of female empowerment are contradicted by one-note characterisations from a half-baked Wilson and wincingly theatrical Hathaway, who are, somehow, outshone by Sharp’s Thomas. It’s astonishing that in a film so painfully manipulated to tick boxes in which women are defined by marketable slogans (the film’s working title was ‘Nasty Women’), the only trace of likability comes from a hapless — although ultimately equally detestable — young man. And for what? An ego boost? A kiss on the cheek? Save the poker chips and avoid the shame, none of this is worth the cost.